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In 2018, fourteen (14) ECO Certified operators in Australia reached a brand new milestone: 20 years of membership of Ecotourism Australia. We want to recognise their long-term commitment to ecologically sustainable tourism, which fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation, here. These are our nation's first ecotourism innovators - the ones who have helped pave the way for responsible and sustainable tourism as we experience it today. These are our 20+ year certified operators - this is our Ecotourism Australia Hall of Fame.

Gippsland High Country Tours

Advanced Ecotourism & ROC | Certified since 1997

EA: Twenty years is a long time. What is something you’ve learnt over the years that you wish you had known 20 years ago?

GHCT: That its not impossible to know what bird call “that” is, or what the scientific name of “that” plant is. I have learnt so much about ecology (and how to interpret it to others) over the years as my natural history experiences have accumulated. I’ve explored, researched, read, discussed and learnt from experts in their relevant fields. I certainly wish I could have had all that experience and knowledge 20 years ago!

EA: What piece of advice would you give to operators entering the ecotourism market today?

GHCT: Keep your products genuine and never stop learning or improving your products. Be curious about nature and share your enthusiasm as well as your knowledge. I think it took years for me to realise how much my love and enthusiasm for the places I visit (and the nature experiences that went with them) inspired my clients. Guides and the people that your clients engage with in your business are critical to your success. Know your stuff and present it honestly, but also be prepared to learn from others or learn together as you and your clients search through a book for an answer to one of nature’s puzzles.

EA: What importance do you place in your ECO Certification?

GHCT: I place a great importance in my ECO Certification, not because it in itself brings any significant financial benefit to my business, but because it identifies standards and measures/recognises my achievements against these standards. It provides my business with credibility in the wider tourism world where micro businesses like mine can otherwise be buried, unseen amongst the masses of larger businesses. Recognition of genuine ecotourism product by consumers has been slow across Australia and I value the work Ecotourism Australia has done to build this awareness and “brand trust” in ECO Certified products. Most important it is critical to demonstrate the standards that need to be the way forward for sustainable tourism into the future.

Find out more about Gippsland High Country Tours.

Quicksilver Connections

Advanced Ecotourism & Climate Action Innovator | Certified since 1997

Find out more about Quicksilver Connections:

Quicksilver Cruises

Great Adventures and Green Island Resort

Binna Burra Mountain Lodge

Advanced Ecotourism | Certified since 1997

EA: Twenty years is a long time. What is something you’ve learnt over the years that you wish you had known 20 years ago?

BBML: The popularity of eco tourism and the activities that can be undertaken in protected areas, can and does change over time. How people interact with nature, their level of experience or awareness also changes remarkably quickly. Our own personal appreciation of the forest with its diversity and beauty, has been the inspiration for Binna Burra's business activities, including accomodation, catering as well as interpretation, guiding and outdoor activities. However the markets domestically and internationally change quicker than we think, and while our business is based on conservation, we actually have to be constantly innovating to meet new demands. Being able to look ahead and understand, perhaps even influence, what people may want from an eco tourism experience is something we have come to understand.

EA: What piece of advice would you give to operators entering the ecotourism market today?

BBML: It is vitally important to understand how your business will actually improve the environment around you, not simply exist within the landscape and hope it will always be there for both your business and your guests. This means being responsible for initiatives that educate guests on how to respect and protect what they have come to enjoy.  As well as working with partners and stakeholders, for example National Parks agencies and landcare groups, to care and enhance your piece of paradise.

EA: What importance do you place in your ECO Certification?

BBML: ECO certification is useful in the marketplace, letting guests know that we work to protect the natural beauty that they come to enjoy. Inside our business, the certification process is important as part of the management and operational framework. It acts as a set of guidelines for both best practice and when thinking strategically about future actions and investments.

Find out more about Binna Burra Mountain Lodge.

Kingfisher Bay Resort Group

Advanced Ecotourism | Certified since 1997

EA: Twenty years is a long time. What is something you’ve learnt over the years that you wish you had known 20 years ago?

KBRG: I wish we could have predicted just how fast technology changes to be prepared for it. When we first opened we were not only best practice but had cutting edge technology for the time. Now some 25 years later we are trying to retrofit new technology into our business. Had we known what we know now we would probably allow for these changes.

EA: What piece of advice would you give to operators entering the ecotourism market today?

KBRG: To use the old adage - keep it simple and keep in mind the basics of ecotourism. Many guests to ecotourism properties are not necessarily there for an eco experience as the primary reason for visiting or staying. This is a great opportunity to educate our visitors and make a difference in global issues such as global warming etc.

EA: What importance do you place in your ECO Certification?

KBRG: The ECO Certification is a very valuable tool that enables you to ensure that you maintain best practice.

Find out more about Kingfisher Bay Resort Group.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Advanced Ecotourism & Climate Action Innovator | Certified since 1997

EA: Twenty years is a long time. What is something you’ve learnt over the years that you wish you had known 20 years ago?

SRCStarting a major tourism business from scratch proved a serious learning curve and the first few years, especially, were torrid given the complexities of running what was the world’s longest cableway at the time. We were fortunate that we were always focussed on the right things like guest experience, authenticity, our people and safety from the outset but there have been so many small things we’ve come to realise which make a difference. More than anything, we would tell ourselves “it is going to be worth it…hang in there”.

EA: What piece of advice would you give to operators entering the ecotourism market today?

SRCMake sure you genuinely love and care for the environment that provides the platform for your business. If you don’t truly love what you do, your staff won’t either and your customers’ experience won’t be as competitive or enriching as it needs to be. Do it because you are passionate; and go above and beyond to exceed any compliance expectations.

EA: What importance do you place in your ECO Certification?

SRCWe are very proud of our continuing ECO certification. Skyrail was quite controversial when the plan to build a cableway over a World Heritage Area came about and having the nod of approval from the Ecotourism sector was one of several things that alleviated the fears of sceptics and signalled we were here for the rainforest and were truly intent on doing things the right way. Even though nobody doubts our intentions anymore, the market now is exponentially smarter and more intent on consuming ethical and sustainable products and experiences. Certification, in our view, gives them confidence that Skyrail is a bona fide, sustainably operated venture hence is vital to our ongoing success. We wouldn’t be without it!

Find out more about Skyrail. 

Tour Gold Coast

Advanced Ecotourism, Climate Action Business & ROC | Certified since 1997

EA: Twenty years is a long time. What is something you’ve learnt over the years that you wish you had known 20 years ago?

TGC: These days there is constant pressure to change and improve. Change is not always for the better, our tour has remained the same for 30 years and still produces happy customers daily.  Creating stability and high quality experiences is a foundation of long term success in tourism.

EA: What piece of advice would you give to operators entering the ecotourism market today?

TGC: Spend time planning your product, have integrity and remain highly principled about the core values of ecotourism,  find the right business formulae to deliver exceptional holiday experiences, listen to customers especially when the product is right, be agile but confident in your business management.  

EA: What importance do you place in your ECO Certification?

TGC: Eco Certification is critical to our business, it provides commercial operators in protected areas a set of guidelines and rules that sets a high standard for not  only us but also our competitors, ensuring that tour product quality remains high, this benefits the destination also.  It also supports our relationship with regulators enabling them to better assess our capability to present environmentally and culturally sensitive ares to the wider community in a commercial setting. 

Find out more about Tour Gold Coast.

Exceptional Kangaroo Island

Advanced Ecotourism & Climate Action Business | Certified since 1998

EA: Twenty years is a long time. What is something you’ve learnt over the years that you wish you had known 20 years ago?

EKI: In retrospect I am not sure that I would have changed much. We all have long “to-do” lists and can really only do what time, technology and resources allow. Probably along with most of our colleagues in the sector, I came into the business completely under-capitalised so our growth has had to be financed from within and has meant it has been a long and slow journey. What this means is that you have to have a financial discipline to survive and the accreditation process provides a pathway to ensuring that, whatever the speed we are travelling, we are headed in the right direction.

One thing which we have done is stick to our core brand promise whilst committing to continuous improvement in our product, our administration, our communication, and our environmental performance. We have not made change for changes sake - but for better outcomes. This consistency has served us well to date and will continue to do so in future."

EA: What piece of advice would you give to operators entering the ecotourism market today?

EKI: Run! No not really - unless you are expecting to make big bucks and fast. This is a business driven by passion and values and if you don’t have these then look elsewhere. This is more of a lifestyle than a big earner - there are far greater margins in lots of other industries than travel and tourism but there is great satisfaction from making people happy. If you can provide people with lifelong memories and change their view of the world for the better it is a pretty good day at the office.

EA: What importance do you place in your ECO Certification?

EKI: We are a small business working in a regional area on an Island. The ability to network with other like-minded people is harder as a result and the accreditation provides some cut-through to best-practice. We have never seen this as a marketing tool - more a business management and development tool. Any promotion or marketing we get is a bonus - the testing of business decisions and external review of business processes is very important if you are not big enough to have a board of directors, a business coach or other avenue for outside input.

Find out more about Exceptional Kangaroo Island.

O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat

Advanced Ecotourism & ROC | Certified since 1998

Find out more about O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat. 

Gecko Canoeing and Trekking

Advanced Ecotourism | Certified since 1998

Find out more about Gecko Canoeing and Trekking.

Silky Oaks Lodge & Healing Waters Spa

Advanced Ecotourism | Certified since 1998

EA: Twenty years is a long time. What is something you’ve learnt over the years that you wish you had known 20 years ago?

SOLConsult or investigate more closely what other operators are doing in regards to environmental initiatives especially those in more remote areas similar to ourselves. It took years before we discovered through trial and error how to implement new environmentally sustainable initiatives to our guests without compromising the 5 star experience. Researching more what was being done around the world would have helped us achieve even better results sooner.

EA: What piece of advice would you give to operators entering the ecotourism market today?

SOLMake investments that last over a lifetime as opposed to short term trends that are not as sustainable such as a new style laminate over recycled timber or plantation and cheaper fashionable fabrics over durable high quality materials that can last for 3 times as long. Supporting local manufactures and businesses even if the costs are higher is a more sustainable business practice and builds local support as well.

EA: What importance do you place in your ECO Certification?

SOLIt keeps us in check and inspires us to maintain the principles and philosophy of sustainability of the micro and macro environment we utilize for our Lodge. The membership and logo also hopefully encourages our guests to appreciate and support Eco tourism in their further travels.

Find out more about Silky Oaks Lodge & Healing Waters Spa.

Ocean Rafting

Advanced Ecotourism & Climate Action Innovator | Certified since 1998

Find out more about Ocean Rafting. 

Wildlife Habitat

Advanced Ecotourism | Certified since 1998

EA: Twenty years is a long time. What is something you’ve learnt over the years that you wish you had known 20 years ago?

WH: With Wildlife Habitat’s launch in 1989, we rapidly became a world leader in immersion exhibits. In the following 5 years, park management became aware of the growing concern and the need to preserve our flora and fauna. A plan was put in place to display and interpret the wildlife and flora of Tropical North Queensland, in particular the Wet Tropics region. This dynamic and ever-evolving plan was designed to take Wildlife Habitat into the new millennium, catering for the developing environmentally conscious market. It wasn’t until we went through the Eco-certification process that we came to realise that we actually already had many sustainable practices in place – these were already deeply embedded into our ethos and values. It was just a matter of reflecting on these, and then determining what needed to be implemented to achieve further excellence in eco-tourism.

EA: What piece of advice would you give to operators entering the ecotourism market today?

WH: As we know, tourism has evolved immensely in the past 20 years during this new digital age – social media has become the new “word of mouth”, which has in turn allowed the eco-tourist to become much more savvy and aware of operators who resort to ‘greenwashing’ – misusing the buzz words ‘ecotourism’ and ‘sustainability’ in an attempt to appear more ethical, and as a result, more saleable. As an ecotourism operator, you need to be genuinely committed to conservation and sustainability, rather than just using these labels for ‘green marketing’, as in this day and age, the eco-tourist will see right through it.

EA: What importance do you place in your ECO Certification?

WH: Our ECO Certification is something we wear with pride at Wildlife Habitat – it is at the forefront of all of our promotion, with the logo having prominently been featured on our brochures, websites and collateral over the past 20 years, and our Advanced Ecotourism status is often referred to when we describe ourselves. Furthermore, it is deeply embedded into the overall ethos of our park – to enable visitors to appreciate and understand the intricate interdependence of Wet Tropics flora and fauna by experiencing up close some of its inhabitants, and through this understanding, aid their conservation. Along with our strong sustainable practices and minimal impact on the natural environment, we’re committed to conservation via our onsite wildlife rescue program TARC (Tropical Animal Rehabilitation Centre), ensuring that injured, orphaned, or sick animals are looked after in a professional and caring manner.

Find out more about Wildlife Habitat.

Canopy Rainforest Tree Houses & Wildlife Sanctuary

Advanced Ecotourism | Certified since 1998

Find out more about Canopy Rainforest Tree Houses & Wildlife Sanctuary.

Wavelength Marine Charters

Advanced Ecotourism & Climate Action Business | Certified since 1998

EA: Twenty years is a long time. What is something you’ve learnt over the years that you wish you had known 20 years ago?

WRC: Wavelength has operated since 1989 but John and I have only owned it for 5 years, however, we have been in marine tourism for most of that time on other projects so I guess it still applies! The most important thing is to keep improving your product over time – tweeking and checking particularly small but even large details on a regular basis. It’s a hard balance to have the best equipment and best people in a business and still survive the harder times but its worth the risk! 

I never thought that 20 years ago that climate change would become so real in our lifetime. It’s a turning point at the moment to try and lobby for changes in government attitude before its too late, not just for our businesses but the reef and even the wellbeing of the country as a whole.

EA: What piece of advice would you give to operators entering the ecotourism market today?

WRC: For someone starting in Ecotourism the advice I would give is to really do a proper business plan and make sure your product is really bulletproof as over time there will be ups and downs and its important to be able to weather whatever is thrown at you and most of all – give it 100% effort and if you are not good in any aspect eg marketing seek help – there are lots of people and organisations that are there to support you especially in that hard first year….

EA: What importance do you place in your ECO Certification?

WRC: The importance of ECO tourism certification is that it gives you credibility. If customers have heard of ECO tourism certification they will know that the company has been vetted carefully and they are likely to have the experience as stated and that eco credentials have been tested. Most people are more aware of the environment and are keen to have experiences that are eco-friendly or have eco tourism credentials.

Find out more about Wavelength Marine Charters.